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To Hans Wetzel,
I am the proud owner of a Rogue Audio Sphinx, so I’ll be interested in your review of it in the near future. Due to “environmental” issues -- very bad AC and RFI -- I replaced the included cheap power cord with a Pangea Audio shielded cord with good results. I also went all out and bought a PS Audio P3 Power Plant to protect all my electronics. This “hobby” can get expensive!
Vic, glad to hear that you like the Sphinx -- which I mentioned in an editorial earlier this year -- so much. I think it’s a very interesting piece, and quite affordably priced. I’m hoping to write up the review in the next six weeks or so, with a likely June or July publication date here on GoodSound!.
As for your investment in a power cable and power conditioner, I’m not exactly shocked, but I’ll wait to say more until the review is published. And while this hobby can certainly get expensive, I think the Rogue, on its own, offers quite a bit of quality for its rather approachable asking price. I’ve never been a fan of tubes, as I explained last summer, but I do think the folks at Rogue are on to something with this hybrid vacuum-tube/class-D topology. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I’m e-mailing you to let you know that I find your articles and equipment reviews really enjoyable, and quite refreshingly honest, as well. Your complete lack of pretense, artifice, and common, unrehearsed honesty that comes across in your writing is unique and just a kick to read.
Your latest article prompted this e-mail; not sure why except that it struck a chord like many others. A lot of other reviewers take pains to always be reminding us that “. . . of course, it’s really all about the MUSIC,” and then continue to go on about some $20k speakers, or preamp, or whatever. And I’m thinking, “and just how many CDs (or downloads, or whatever) and concert tickets could I buy for 20k?”
At the moment, my system has evolved (and simplified) over about 30 years to a Bryston integrated amp, MartinLogan Vantage electrostatic speakers, two HSU subs, an Oppo BDP-105, and a Magnum Dynalab Etude FM tuner -- I’m lucky enough to have two good classical FM stations nearby. I also listen to ‘80s/’90s rock as well as deep-space electronic ambient, and organ music, as well -- my wife is a church organist. So, not a cheap-crap system by any means, but, relatively speaking, fairly modest. I make my own interconnects and speaker cables from decent wire and connectors, mostly because it’s easy and fun. At one point I had about a dozen boxes in my system -- separate everything. I simplified as I upgraded over the last seven years or so.
It is of course a truism that very, very few people appreciate spending even this kind of money on a stereo audio system. So your point is hardly new. It is just as much a truism that very few people appreciate any obsessive, niche hobby. It doesn’t make us particularly elite, or discerning, just a little weird. But I’m okay with that.
A friend of mine at work thinks I’m insane, and teases me about it. However, he’s taken up flying private planes as a hobby, owns his own plane, and has spent more in five years than I’ve spent on audio in my life. He is just crazy about it, so, money well spent. I don’t begrudge buyers of $250k+ audio systems -- they're fun, and I do like reading about really expensive equipment.
One closing observation: we read a lot of hand-wringing about two-channel enthusiast-audio dying, dealers closing, etc. So how to explain the mind-boggling variety of equipment available, at all price points? Compared to 30 years ago, when I started, the number of choices is just incredible. Not just that, but real improvements have been made in power amps and speakers, not to mention high-resolution digital audio. DSD is really appealing, except that the selection is so limited now. Handy that the Oppo has a flash update to support DSD.
So, thanks for all the good writing and interesting ideas, and I expect you’ll keep at it.
Thanks for the kind words, Doug. I plan on writing as long as readers are able to stomach my monthly efforts. I only hope to contribute to the discussion on this audio hobby of ours beyond the banal “be sure to audition this product” or, as you suggest, “it’s all about the music.” There’s a lot of worthy conversation to be had about equipment, formats, cost, and even forays into psychology/philosophy, as I’ll touch on in my May 1 editorial. I imagine that it will resonate with many readers, if not all, to one degree or another.
As for your “deep-space electronic ambient” music, color me curious. About one third of my music collection is comprised of electronic music, so it’s nice to hear that others dabble in the abstract and esoteric! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your latest editorial. I was once the crazed, obsessed "audiophile" (I do have the addictive gene, I believe.) I would lust and spend above my means for the next, best flavor of the month.
Eventually, doing that lead to having very little money left to spend on new music. Listening became more like work, less like pleasure. Well, times and priorities have changed. The "audiophile" system is gone. It’s been replaced with a PC, some powered speakers, a headphone amplifier-DAC, and headphones. This is located in the family room, and the family uses it. Decisions on equipment purchases are not based solely on how something sounds. Sure, I want good sound, but will the wife, daughter, and son be able enjoy the system as well? The major considerations are ease of use, features, price, and sound, in no particular order. Now having said all that, I can still get a little crazy over this piece or that thingamabob because of something the audio press has written. When I feel that craziness coming back, I remember back a few years ago when I served the equipment. Those weren't really fun times. The pleasure truly comes when the music serves me!
Great read and keep up the good work,
Jay, glad to hear that I'm not alone. I was really looking forward to reviewing the Cabasses that are mentioned and pictured in the article (you’ll be able to find my review in Ultra Audio, our sister site, on the 15th of this month). But after seeing those (beautiful) 124-pound beasts leave my listening room, I never want to review something that big again. They're huge! If I had that dedicated listening room, perhaps, but not for a normal city apartment.
I'm finding that I derive the most pleasure from products that sound good and are thoughtfully designed. For that reason, Audioengine's little A5+ remains a favorite of mine, despite the fact that a pair only costs $399. My bamboo review samples looked great, had everything one needed right in the box, and sounded pretty good, to boot. They weren't the best in any individual respect, but as a package, it was so livable, as I wrote in my review. It's no surprise to me that you've replaced your traditional hi-fi setup for a computer-based setup with powered speakers. We have at least one powered desktop speaker review in the pipeline, and possibly another, so stay tuned. It's pretty crazy just how good some of these small desktop solutions can sound. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just got my Benchmark DAC2 HGC this afternoon to use in my main two-channel music-only system to connect to my Audio Research LS27 preamp. It is replacing a Stello DA220 Mk.II DAC. I also have a Benchmark DAC1 USB that I’ve only used on my desktop with my computer.
I just wanted to ask a question: when you used your review DAC2 only as a DAC, how did you have it configured? I think I understand how to hook up the DAC2, but I just wanted to verify things because it is different due to the volume/gain control knob in the front compared to my old Stello. The Stello was just the same normal hookup: source to DAC and DAC to preamp (with a fixed output). But with the DAC2, is the knob in the front a gain control when using the digital inputs? Should that just be set to the maximum level when I hook it up to my preamp? Or should I play around with the levels and find the one that works best? Is that how the DAC2 is meant to be used when using it as a traditional DAC like my old Stello DAC? I am using the balanced XLR outputs from the DAC into my preamp. For now, I‘ve left the DAC2's XLR output jumper pads at the factory default of 10dB.
Just a little confused. Thanks for any light that you can shed.
Congratulations on the DAC2 HGC, Sanjay. I think you'll find it to be a noticeable improvement over your DAC1, and you can be confident that you own one of the most overachieving digital components on the market today.
As for the setup, the DAC2 can be a little confusing. Unlike the DAC1, which has a switch on the back to select whether you want a fixed output (for use as a DAC) or a variable output (for use as a DAC-preamplifier to be run directly into an amplifier), the DAC2 only has the volume control on the front. I, too, was a little befuddled at first as to how the volume control should be set, but your hunch is a correct one. When used solely as a DAC, simply set the volume to maximum and you'll be all set. As I recall, Benchmark's informative manual details how to preset the volume on the DAC2, so you should be able to preset it to maximum whenever the unit is turned on.
But if you decide to try running the DAC2 as a DAC-preamp, bypassing your Audio Research LS27 in the process, pay very close attention to the setup. When run as a preamp, you'll want to have the volume preset very low so as not to blow out your speakers. You will also want to always make sure to turn on your amp before the DAC2 when powering on your system, and turn off the DAC2 before the amplifier when powering down your system. I experienced a brutally loud pop through the GoldenEar Technologies Triton Three loudspeakers when I got that backwards, though luckily all of the equipment was fine. It can't hurt to double- and triple-check everything if you decide to go this route.
Please let us know how the DAC2 HGC works out for you. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
It was with smile on my face that I read your post-CES article. While I truly admire those companies that push the outer envelopes of audio performance with cost-no-object designs, a good amount of the shit being pushed onto the public is somewhat dubious at best.
If you want to read what happens when you suggest that a $200,000 speaker is overpriced, check out the comments under Stereophile's review of Wilson Audio's Alexandria XLF. I posted two well-though-out comments about how I thought the Wilson XLFs were drastically overpriced and you'd think that I just spat in Pope Francis's face.
Here's my first comment:
Since most of these dopes who were flaming me know as much about speaker design and audio engineering as a shit I take in the morning, I opted out of adding anything else. It did seem that about half the people who posted actually understood what I said.
Take it light,
Jeff, you're fighting an uphill battle against legions of audiophiles, including many reviewers, like Michael Fremer, who penned the review you commented on. Name recognition and rave reviews seem to cement a product's quality in the minds of many folks. Michael Fremer's outgoing speakers were Wilson Audio MAXX 3s. A pair matched with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Lamm Industries' electronics behind them were blazing away in one of the rooms at CES, and, without exaggeration, I couldn't listen to the setup for more than a minute or two. The tweeters were old inverted Focal domes that happen to ring like hell when they begin to break up, resulting in a really edgy and sharp top end. I followed two younger guys out of the room, and without provocation, one muttered to the other: "Those sounded terrible." It goes to show you that just because something is expensive -- $68,000 for the MAXX 3s -- it doesn't mean it's any good. Trust your ears, then ask what the price is -- I think you'll be shocked to find that there's more engineering (and better resultant sound) in products costing an order of magnitude less than either of those Wilsons. I would have thought that $200,000 would buy you bespoke drivers, but it looks like that would have pushed them over their intended price point. Maybe next time. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I've read your opinion of the Benchmark DAC2 HGC, and while I find it very well detailed in putting on the table all the differences when comparing this DAC with the DAC1 USB, I was surprised not to find any comment regarding the possibility that the DAC2 has to play DSD files, since it supports native DSD conversion. I am a glad owner of a DAC1 USB and I was thinking to have someday the possibility to play DSD, partially in order to find if there are improvements in sound quality, and to see (better to say listen!) if, depending on the music, DSD is really better than PCM. Do you have any experience about a comparison between DSD and PCM files on the DAC2 HGC?
Luciano, the DAC1 USB was my reference for the last few years, and I think it's still a terrific piece of gear. The DAC2 would be a noticeable improvement, however, as it offers a more cultured and refined sound than its older sibling. Regarding DSD, I actually did mention that the DAC2 supports DSD. Beyond that, though, I can't provide you with any perspective. I am behind the times in terms of high-resolution formats, with by far the majority of my music collection comprising digital rips of Red Book CDs. This is partly because I am an inherent cheapskate (hence my writing for GoodSound!), and partly because most of the music I like isn't available in high-resolution formats. As more DSD content becomes available, however, we will be sure to review some of these releases and will hopefully be in a better position to then offer a comparison of the two formats. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just stumbled across your site. Nice writing. Wondered about your opinion -- are you familiar with New England Audio Resource (NEAR) speakers? I like their bookshelf speakers (yeah their drivers are kind of in your face, but I like that), and have found some old 50Ms that I'm thinking of purchasing. I'm wondering if it makes sense to purchase speakers that are around 15 years old and how they'd stack up against more modern stuff? I used to use a lot of vintage quadraphonic receivers, and am currently running a Denon AVR-3808CI with a Sansui QSD-2 for my legacy quadraphonic vinyl. I use the same setup for video in 5.1, as well.
Matt, I don't think you're crazy for thinking about buying older equipment. In fact, I just purchased a pair of almost 15-year-old Mirage OM-5 loudspeakers because I'd always thought they were pretty cool. I'm not familiar with NEAR (I was learning my multiplication tables when they were new), though I think that the 50Ms would be a pretty neat fit for your vintage rig. But as to how they would fare when compared to more modern designs, I hate to tell you, but not well.
Driver and cabinet design has come a long, long way since the 50Ms were in their prime. Many manufacturers make tower speakers under $2000/pr. that would outperform the 50Ms in just about every way. I would also worry about speakers that old because of normal wear and tear. Driver surrounds may deteriorate, having a deleterious effect on the sound, meaning the vintage towers may have a pretty short lifespan. And if the speakers were abused, you will have a bear of a time trying to find replacement parts. Given your affinity for older gear, I imagine that you're leaning towards buying the 50Ms, and so long as they're in good shape, I think you should jump on them. Worst case, you move them on and take a small hit to the wallet, but with no regrets after having been able to try them out. That's my approach with these Mirages, so I'm practicing what I'm preaching! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed your review of CES and Vegas. I agree with your take on the place. I'm heading down for four days during spring break, and I'm sure that will be about all I can take. Still nice to get down to some higher temps for a few days.
Just a question: I have a pretty small office and have a secondary system in there. Nice front end (I think, anyway) with a VPI Scoutmaster outfitted with a Signature arm and a Shelter cartridge, an Arcam amp, a Burson DAC and little Silverline Minuet speakers. The Minuets replaced an old set of ProAc Tablettes. I'm sure they are easier to drive and more dynamic and have more bass, but I just feel they don't have magic. My issue is in this small office: they are only about 6’ away. I feel that a small speaker that spoke from the 10th or 15th row would be ideal.
I love the look of Sonus Faber's speakers. Do you think they might give me what I want in a small room? Or is there any other speaker you have auditioned that struck you as a great solution for a small space? Help me narrow down my search.
Sounds like you have a terrific little system, though I can understand what you mean about the speakers. I have several suggestions, though I have not had the chance to formally review any of them.
GoldenEar Technology's $798/pr. Aon 2s would offer a more full-range sound than something like the Silverline, due in large part to the 6" driver on offer, compared to the 3.5" driver in what you currently own. Moreover, it uses the same tweeter as the one used in the Triton Three that I reviewed last December. I found the tweeter to offer broad, even dispersion that allowed for an enormous soundstage, but with a smoothly refined and relaxed quality about it. The "10th row" effect could most easily be found in something like the Aon 2s. While they are larger in every dimension to the Silverlines, they're still relatively compact.
For a more classical styling, I think you're on to something with Sonus Faber. I saw their Venere 1.5 bookshelf speakers out at CES, and heard the 2.0 models playing. They managed to retain the signature Sonus Faber sound -- warm, involving, relaxed -- while also remaining pretty resolving. Add to that the fact that 1.5s can be had for $1198/pr., while also looking fantastic, and I think they're an easy recommendation. I'm hoping to get a pair in for review in the coming months, but until then, I can't really comment any further on these.
My last recommendation would be PSB's Imagine Mini bookshelf speakers, which retail for $760/pr. Roger Kanno reviewed them last year for SoundStage! Hi-Fi, our sister site, and was bowled over by their performance given their diminutive stature -- approximately the same as your Silverlines. I was skeptical until I received a pair of PSB's Alpha PS1 powered loudspeakers a few weeks ago (review forthcoming). Sometimes I can tell how good something sounds within a few hours of background listening, but sometimes it takes much longer to pin down what I'm hearing. With the PSBs, however, which are conceptually very similar to the Imagine Mini (short of the built-in amplifiers), it took seconds. What I hear with these Alpha PS1s roughly mirrors what Roger heard with the Imagine Minis -- they have this "rightness" to the midrange that I haven't heard in this price range before. Given that the Imagine Minis measure crazy-flat and offer 4" woofers, compared to the 3.5" units on your Minuets (and have about the same cabinet size), they would probably be the neatest overall fit of the speakers mentioned here. However, they don't offer quite the relaxed sound that you're looking for. They're not forward, per se, but the GoldenEars and Sonus Fabers are almost certainly going to sound more laid back than the PSBs. Hope this helps. Let us know what direction you wind up going. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your review of the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. I pay attention to your writings because you're the only reviewer I know of that owns Mirage OMD-28s. I noticed you used KEF speakers for the Benchmark review. Did you sell your Mirage OMD-28s? I ask because I have struggled with the OMD-28s to get them to have good clarity with solid bass in my family room. I still have them, but just replaced them with Dynaudio Focus 340s. But I sort of miss using the OMD-28s, with the open, big soundstage. However, I don't miss the disappointing bass and clarity I experienced with the OMD-28s.
Do you still have them? What cables are you using with the OMD-28s? Are you biwiring, triwiring, or using single wires with jumpers? With my OMD-28s I used JW Audio Cryo Nova single wires with JW Audio Cryo Nova jumpers (this is a custom-twisted magnet-wire cable).
Emerson, I did wind up selling my omnidirectional Mirage OMD-28s, and for reasons that you will likely appreciate. When I first purchased my Mirages -- which was actually before I became a reviewer here at GoodSound! -- I was over the moon with them. They were gorgeous looking, threw out an enormous soundstage, and had prodigious bass. As I began to review more and more equipment, I realized that the bass was overemphasized, resulting in tons of it, but at the expense of ultimate definition. If you are finding a paucity of bass in your room, it's certainly not down to wires. I found the 28s needed a good deal of power and current to sound composed in the bass, and I suspect that might have something to do with it on your end. An amp delivering 100Wpc into 8 ohms would be a minimum suggestion, but I found that they sounded their best with over 200Wpc, which I learned when I partnered them with Hegel's H300 or Musical Fidelity's M6 500i.
Regarding the wires, I found that, given just how bass happy the OMD-28s were, Nordost's Blue Heaven cables were a better match than more traditional cables. The Nordosts have a slightly lean, airy sound that offset the overripe bottom end of the Mirages. When I used the 28s with my other reference speaker wire, Dynamique Audio's Caparo, I originally thought that they were bass heavy. In retrospect, the Caparos are pretty even across the audioband, and just happened to expose the Mirages as being overeager in the lower registers. Oh, and I've always been a single-wire guy. Some claim to hear dramatic differences when biwiring or triwiring, but I happen not to, for what that's worth.
As for the clarity of the OMD-28s, this was the deal-breaker for me. On larger orchestral works, I adored the Mirages. They portrayed recording space like no other loudspeaker I've heard, but with closer-miked stuff, I always felt like their imaging was a bit vague and amorphous. Hardly a flaw, this is a byproduct of the design. When you splay sound in the fashion that the Mirages do, you'll get huge sound, but at the expense of clarity.
When someone was willing to buy the Mirages for nearly what I paid for them, I jumped at the opportunity. They're terrific, and if I had a perfectly symmetrical listening room to set them up in, I may well have kept them. In the end, I decided to go with KEF R900s. They don't reproduce space quite as well as the Mirages, nor do they have quite the bass extension or beautiful high-gloss finish, but in every other respect, the KEFs are the superior loudspeakers in my room.
I'm sure you'll love the Dynaudios -- I used to own a pair, and the Danes know how to design a mean speaker. But if you wind up wanting to further explore your options in the non-direct-radiator department, I highly suggest Definitive Technology's BP-8060ST or BP-8080ST models. These bipolar speakers have built-in powered subwoofers, sound almost as large as the Mirages have, and offer imaging that rivals some of the better direct radiators out there. These towers use what DefTech calls a Forward Focused Bipolar Array, in which the rear-mounted drivers play 6dB down from what the front drivers produce. Their research has shown that this is the best way to preserve the imaging of a direct radiator, while also providing a credible bipolar-type soundstage. I think the results are terrific, and if I didn't need fully passive reference loudspeakers for reviewing purposes, I probably would have replaced the Mirages with the DefTechs. They won't have quite the velvety sound of the OMD-28s; rather, they're a bit more crisp sounding. But they're an easy recommendation for a full-range speaker from my vantage point. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I am a novice listener and don’t have a lot of experience with audiophile and high-fidelity music. Last year I bought Bowers & Wilkins CM8 front speakers, paired with a Marantz SR7005 receiver. For some reason which I cannot thoroughly explain, I just felt that something was missing. I am in the process of replacing my current setup with either the KEF R700 or R900, a Parasound A23 amplifier and will use the Marantz as a preamp-processor. Would KEF’s R700 or R900 be a good upgrade sonically? If it is, do you have an integrated amplifier -- $5000 or less -- that will match well with either of the KEFs? I know this is a silly question since each person's hearing preferences will vary. Many thanks for your time.
Emmanuel, while your Bowers & Wilkins speakers and Marantz setup have a rich heritage and an equally rich sound, I think you’re on the right track in thinking that there might be more resolving products out there. The KEFs would be at the top of my list, and predictably so -- I made the KEF R900 my personal reference loudspeaker. A review of the R900 is forthcoming on GoodSound!, but know that KEF’s R-series models are some of the best speakers you can buy under $5000. Another reviewer here on GoodSound!, Roger Kanno, has also made a pair of R900s his own, and we’re in agreement about just how good they are. While I haven’t heard the R700s, I suspect they will sound nearly identical to the R900s, short of abbreviated bass extension, and maximum output, the latter of which is a surprisingly high 113dB. If you have space constraints, go with the R700; otherwise, I can heartily recommend the R900. There are a goodly number of very good speakers available for under $5000 that you might consider, but I really do think that the KEFs currently sit at the summit.
As for an integrated amplifier at $5000 or less . . . I have a suggestion, but it will cost you slightly more than you’re looking to spend. Hegel’s H300 is $5500, but for that money you buy a 250Wpc amplifier, one of the quietest preamplifiers I have heard at any price, and a D/A converter that can hold its own with some of the industry’s top names. Try and hear one if you can. I think it’s within a stone’s throw of the best sound available under $10,000, and it retails for barely more than half of that. I wound up purchasing one to serve as my reference for the future, and combined with the KEFs, I’m confident that I own two of the top performers available today, which combine to outperform some of their far more expensive competitors. I think you’ll be shocked by just how much more revealing a KEF R-series and Hegel tandem will prove to be over your current setup. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Regarding your recent piece on CES 2013, I have to say this insane bullshit has been going on for a long time. Why these shmucks peddle this malarkey is a mystery to me. This nerd-lick hobby is for dumbass schlemiels with deep pockets and no friggin’ brains. The hobby has also gotten so boring that I would rather have a good bowel movement than worry about this absurd baloney.
The sad thing is that, while many a schmuck may wind up being sucked into the malarkey, there are a goodly number of relatively bright people who get sucked into the manure as well. GoodSound! does more than fit a need -- high-fidelity sound at reasonable prices -- it fits an ethos. When someone is offering a piece of audio equipment at exorbitant prices, the reaction shouldn't be "Oh, I bet that sounds good." Rather, it should engender skepticism and the question "Why?" If you get a straight answer that's predicated on engineering principles and cost of manufacturing, that's one thing. If it's some amorphous nonsense about "getting closer to the music" or some such, cast a suspicious gaze before quickly moving on. More aspersions will be cast in my March editorial, so you should check back on March 1st. Oh, and good luck with the bowel movement. . . . Hans Wetzel